Saints' toughest tackler on the battle to win back his place in the midfield.
“In Spain, we say: when you are happy with your conscience it means you are doing the right thing every day, and it feels that way at the moment.”
If anyone’s conscience ought to be happy and clear, it is Oriol Romeu’s. The same daily dedication, focus and determination are things that are easily connected to the combative midfielder.
The question of doing all that can be possibly done, leaving no stone unturned and being confident that it will pay off is a concept that the Catalan feels is true now of both himself and Saints as a whole.
When he wasn’t playing, what mattered most was knowing that each day, he had done all he could to support his teammates. As a squad, the onus is on leaving everything on the field whether it be at Staplewood Campus, St Mary’s or elsewhere in the Premier League on any given weekend.
“When I was in and out of the squad, I just wanted to have my ‘consciousness’ and be absolutely sure that at I am doing my part,” he said.
“Sometimes you can’t affect other people’s decisions so what you can do is make sure you are really doing the right things about yourself. This is the feeling I think everybody shares together at the moment.”
It is an approach that helped the 27-year-old throughout a “difficult process” in his career; his return at the base of the Saints midfield last month against Arsenal at St Mary’s was the first 90 minutes he had completed since the first day of the season against Burnley.
Doing so was an important step for a player whose confidence is rooted in consistency and the knowledge that he is contributing in any way possible for his teammates.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has re-installed Romeu into the first-team setup for now but he knows that it could be short-lived and the source of lasting belief also needs to come from within. The overriding feeling is that even if that were to be the case for any player, a commitment to the cause is uniting Saints on and off the field.
“Maybe he will want me to play 90 minutes, then 20, then 45, but we believe that if we follow the process it is going to get everyone in the team feeling that confidence again,” he explained.
“Sometimes it can be easy to look around and say I need the coach or somebody else to get my confidence back for me, but sometimes too it is you who has to change the mindset and you have to be the one to make things right and not wait for someone else to do it for you.
“That is just part of our journey; when the lows are on top of you, you just have to make sure they last for as little time as possible. That is the same in life but in football it can be more obvious and there for everyone to see; you cannot lie when a player is not feeling comfortable in what he is doing in games or in training.
“It is a hard process; as a player and person you learn a lot from those more challenging moments and take so many positive things. You don’t want to go through them but sometimes you have to.”
The low moments the Catalan refers to were a stark contrast to the story of his 2016/17 season. Were it not for three suspensions and a minor knock in the second day of the campaign against Manchester United, he would have played every minute of every Premier League game.
His was the first name on the teamsheet in a year that yielded 43 starts from a possible 53. It was the kind of stability that brought the very best out of him, evidenced by his collection of the Player of the Season award at the campaign’s end.
“It is a different approach when you are always playing and know that the manager has confidence in you and likes what you are doing,” he said.
“Sometimes your confidence can get affected and suddenly you are not playing with the same freedom or confidence that you normally would.
“Some players can be out for a few weeks and come back and they are ready to go. Personally, I struggle and I am a bit heavier in those times and I need that game time to get ready. You can train as hard as you want and do as many exercises as you want but the match fitness is different.”
An awareness of this prompted him to feature for the Under-23s in their PL Cup trip to Notts County to begin recharging the physical power to his game that Saints fans have been accustomed to since his move from Chelsea in August 2015.
For Romeu, an appearance at Ilkeston Town’s New Manor Ground laid the foundation for his next at Wembley against Tottenham, followed by Cardiff and Arsenal, playing more and more minutes in each game. Like a steam train, once up and running his match focus and consistency of performance can be difficult to stop.
“After (Notts County), I could play against Tottenham and then Cardiff and then Arsenal. It was the start; it was a game where I didn’t need to work a lot by comparison, but having the game movements back was so important to get used to it,” he said.
“The testosterone, the adrenaline that you are burning, you cannot have that anywhere else. Playing that 90 minutes and helping the team again is like nothing else.”
Relentless physical intensity, mental focus and passion have been the watchwords under the new Saints manager, three attributes that have always set him apart.
Stronger now for the difficulties of the past few months and reinvigorated by his return to the team, all the pieces are seemingly in place for Romeu to rediscover his previous unshakeable form as the rock in front of his team’s defence.
“Physically I am feeling great and mentally,” he gestures in the air to find the right expression. “It is like a new fresh air to our minds and bodies. I am feeling strong but this is just the beginning.
“He wants us to play with passion and intensity and that is me. Having that passion, it brings the best out of me. It is the same when I am training; I need to be connected to the session and every detail, and go away thinking about it and what needs to be done.
“It is why I try to make the most out of every opportunity because I cannot just let things go past me without committing myself with everything.
“We know now that we can do it, what we have lacked in the last two or three years has been consistency. Every time we walk out on to the pitch we have to play in that way.”
Romeu is experienced enough to know the future is never certain and the way back to previous heights will be long. But, if your conscience is happy and you know what your role will be in supporting those around you, that doesn’t need to be a problem.
“When you look at the future, first look at what you are doing today in order to get there,” he concluded. “The feeling now is that every day we are doing the right things to get to where we need to be. We want the winning feeling back again for good.”